I recently coached a mom, Elizabeth*, who had a flexible position working from home as a freelancer. This arrangement had been an ideal situation for Elizabeth and her family, given that her husband was often traveling for his work and their three children were still quite young. In addition, this set up allowed her to keep a foot in the workplace door, continue to use skills that she had developed over the past ten years, and engage in work that she enjoys.
Sounds ideal, right? You might even feel a slight pang of envy, especially if you have been dreaming of a similar arrangement. Elizabeth acknowledged that she is lucky, but also came to realize that this work set-up was simply not ideal for her. She found over the long run that she missed aspects of her previous “in-the-office” job. Working from home 100% of the time felt lonely and isolating.
Flexible Working Woes
From time-to-time, clients bring up their flexible-working woes when meeting with me. The truth is that not all flexible arrangements are perfect. In some cases, like Elizabeth’s situation, the schedule or set-up may work for some people but not others. Some individuals may decide they can endure the imperfect scenario in order to gain something of greater value (e.g., more time with their family, more control over their hours and when they work).
In other cases, the flexibility issue is faulty or toxic and needs to be addressed as soon as possible, such as an employer who is not supportive of an arrangement (I’ve even experienced this myself). These issues do not mean that flexible schedules are always doomed from the start, but rather that it may take time and experimentation to find the right organization, the right boss, and the right schedule that works for us as well as our employer. And what may fit during one time period in our lives may not be ideal during another time period.
Fixing Your Flexibility
So what should you do if you finally have the arrangement that you’ve been dreaming of, but alas, it is less than perfect? Here are a few steps you can take:
- Determine if the flexible set up is the only issue. The first step is to tease out the true sources of your work dissatisfaction, and ascertain if the flexible arrangement is the main culprit. When people feel unhappy with their jobs, I have found that it is not always easy to figure out the exact causes. In Elizabeth’s case, she pondered whether working a few days per week in an office would be more satisfying. If not, what else is less than ideal? The type of clients that hire her? The actual tasks and duties of her work? How much she earns?
- Consider how you can solve the problem without changing jobs. Because she felt isolated, Elizabeth wondered if working in a shared office space nearby her home would solve the problem and thus pursued this possibility. Unfortunately she found that while her situation improved, what she really missed was not just being around people, but actually collaborating with colleagues on projects. Or let’s say you have a part-time position but have found your hours creeping well beyond your allotted pay. You could first arrange a meeting with your manager to discuss the issue and determine if there is a solution agreeable to all parties, such as passing on some of your tasks to a new team member.
- Reflect on how you can solve the problem outside of your job. If something seems to be missing in your work, can you get that need filled elsewhere? Like Elizabeth, other freelancers and solopreneurs often feel isolated in their work and thus seek professional groups that bring people together on a weekly or monthly basis, such as a writing or entrepreneurs group. I have also found that when people feel their work lacks a certain type of creativity, they sometimes can tap into this need after hours, such as engaging in a photography or painting hobby.
- Look for a new job with the “right” flexibility. Sometimes the best move is searching for a new job with the just-right type of flexibility. Elizabeth decided she would seek a part-time job that included at least some time in an office and collaboration with others. In my case, I found a new part-time job with a more supportive culture for flexible arrangements. Figure out what is best for you and your current situation, and then launch an all-out investigation for your ideal flexibility.
A flexible work arrangement may be exactly what you need for better work-life balance, but don’t get discouraged if you run into a less than ideal situation. The good news is that you can resolve these issues, whether within a current position or a new job that better suits your needs and life!
*Note that clients’ names and some identifying information have been changed to protect their confidentiality.
Have you had to fix a past flexible work issue?
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